One thing that you may or may not know about me: I’ve worked in theatre for almost my entire working life. Not in an artistic capacity but in the front of house realms (although I can do great jazz hands!). I started working in theatre because when I was 13-years-old Les Misérables came to Brazil, where I’m from. It was the biggest piece of theatre the country had even seen at that point and I was hooked. Theatre became my hobby, my fascination, my escapism. So when I moved to the UK I though “I might as well work with my passion”.
When I had children it was only natural that I started taking them to the theatre from when they were really young. Joseph’s first theatre experience was at 11 months to watch Planeta Ka at the Unicorn Theatre. He has just turned 5 and our most recent theatre trip was to see Matilda, a full-on musical that many thought would be too long / too grown-up for a then 4-year-old. But he loved it and he still asks to listen to the sound track in the car (and keeps asking me to buy tickets again!).
So for me it was natural to take my young kid to the theatre but I almost always took him by myself as I could never find friends (and their kids) who wanted to come with us. That’s because for most people the idea of going to the theatre with a child is excruciating. “he won’t stay seated for that long”, “she will keep talking and bothering people”, “he will need the toilet a million times”, “are we even allowed to eat inside the theatre? Because he will need snacks to keep quiet”, “he won’t get it”, “getting on the tube with a buggy!” etc etc. I’ve heard all of those concerns and many more. And the thing is: I had all of those concerns myself but about different experiences. It’s all about what we know ourselves as parents.
Working in theatre myself, I fully understand that theatres still have a very long way to go to break the stigma of being inaccessible and being more appealing for first-time visitors and young people. I fully understand how a theatre trip can be intimidating, let alone with a child. My view is that the only way to get your child to “get it” and stay seated and pay attention and not talk etc is to expose them to the environment you want them to get used to. If you want them to be able to go to the theatre, take them to the theatre! I know… easier said than done, but true. And until they get the hang of it… they will bounce up and down the aisles, they will go to the toilet a million times, they will ask you what is happening really loudly every 2 seconds… and that is TOTALLY ok. And it’s totally ok because, for starters, theatres now recognise that they have to be more flexible with their audiences. The “snotty” theatre attitude some of us might recognise has its days counted. And also because there are so many family-friendly, age-appropriate theatre shows out there which allows your little ones to be, well, little! And those shows are the best shows to go to in the early days while you as a family get used to going to the theatre together. There’s no pressure to be “well behaved”, only pressure to enjoy yourselves! You WANT them to bounce, sing along and have fun! You WANT them to think of theatre as a fun thing to do! And trust me – those early trips to the theatre will get them watching Matilda and loving theatre in no time!
Now, if you have two (or more) children you know that you don’t do a lot of the stuff with your second that you did with your first born. Not for any other reason but because you just have too much on your plate! So my youngest is 19 months and she hadn’t been to the theatre until a couple of weeks ago! Very late for my standards! She did go to Alton Towers at 5-weeks-old though!
We were offered tickets by Family Tickets to Bing Live! (yes, Bing and Flop, everyone’s favourite bunny and his… dad? Imaginary friend? No one will ever know!). It was Nattie’s first trip to the theatre and it was brilliant. So let me tell you some facts about this theatre trip:
- On the way to the theatre (Churchill Theatre in Bromley, South London) we got stuck in traffic and there was no way we would make it to the 1pm show. I called Family Tickets to explain and the staff member who picked up was so understanding and lovely that she instantly put me at ease about the whole thing. She said I would have to call the theatre directly, gave me the number, but reassured me that it should be fine. I called the Churchill Theatre and asked if we could come to the 4pm show instead and the answer was yes! Of course we were lucky that there were seats available, but everyone was friendly, understanding and no one made me feel bad for being late! (I've now also been told that Family Tickets is working on being able to have access to seating plans even during weekends so they can sort everything out for customers themselves instead of transferring customers to the theatre!)
- When arriving at the theatre the person I spoke to on the phone came to see me and even checked I made it to the theatre ok!
- Joseph had a tantrum in the foyer because he wanted me to buy ALL of the merchandise. That’s ok. Do you know why? Because ALL the kids were having tantrums about the merchandise. We are all in this together. Parents: unite!
- Joseph had a tantrum because he “did not need to go to the toilet” before the show. He did. I had to bribe him with the said merchandise. And that’s ok. The dad next to me was dealing with a tantrum about a napkin.
- In the auditorium there was a countdown to the beginning of the show, so kids knew what to expect and when the show was going to start. Lights came down gently so no one got scared.
- Nattie had a tantrum because she wanted the Bing soft toy the kid in front of us had. His dad probably bought him Bing as loo bribery. I didn’t give in and Nattie didn’t understand why stealing is not ok.
- The show was amazing. Both Joseph and Natalia were singing along, bouncing up and down the aisle, asking me a million questions excitedly! They loved and it and we loved watching them love it!
- At the interval, hubby got us coffee and Joseph a slushy from the bar which made the kids content. And the coffee made us happy too! The characters even explained what an interval is and gave parents a helping hand by telling kids to catch the toilet train during the interval. Surprisingly, it worked! No problem getting Joseph to the toilet at the interval!
- Nattie got a bit tired at one point and demanded milk. So I breastfed her for about 15 minutes of the show on my seat while she watched the show wide eyed and peacefully. And that’s ok. These are family friendly shows with babies and children of all ages. No one even blinked an eye!
- At the end, you could see a mix of tired parents, kids having tantrums about walking up the stairs and kids running around in circles from the sugar/excitement mix. We are all in the same boat, parents! And still, you would see all parents, tired and all, saying “well, that was really lovely and special”. Because that is what having kids is: tiring, but so special. And taking them to the theatre is an experience like no other for both of you and a lifelong interest in the magical world of making believe.
We left really happy, Natalia is now officially obsessed with Bing Bunny and Joseph started wanting to watch Cbeebies again. And thank you Family Tickets for sending Natalia a Bing soft toy afterwards!
Here are my final top tips for parents taking their kids to the theatre:
- Book via Family Tickets. They are the only event booking and information service designed around the need of parents. They specialise in shows for children, so they know what they are talking about AND they know what you need. Expect amazing service if you need to call them for any reason (like I had to), expect a straight forward booking process and expect very comprehensive (but clear) pre-visit information – they will tell you in advance about toilets at the venue, if there is a buggy park, what kind of snacks are available, where to eat nearby, where there is a baby change, how to get there, where to park, if you can take photos, how long the show is… everything you need to know, they will tell you without you having to ask or Google! And if there is anything not covered, they will respond quickly.
- Be prepared to either say no to buying the merchandise or come prepared to spending on merchandise. I have done both – when we went to see “The Tiger who Came to Tea” for example, I told Joseph before we were even there that I would only buy him the book from the theatre and a slushy and he was ok with it because he got to be excited about the slushy. When we went to Peter Pan, I brought snacks from home and warned him I would not be buying anything from the theatre as the tickets had been expensive (sometimes they need to learn this lesson too!). When we went to In the Night Garden for the first time, I let him buy whatever he wanted. It really depends on what you can afford at the time, the key is just to be aware and decide how you want to deal with it before you get there. In the Night Garden actually does something very clever which is that you can preorder your goody bag to collect at the theatre for a big discount – so you know how much you’re spending before you get there - I wish all kids shows would do his as the merchandise thing is such a big things on these shows.
- Be ready for them to want to munch non-stop while seated! It’s like being in the car. Bring snacks and/or money to buy snacks there. Check the information Family Tickets will send you as each venue may have different food and drink policies.
- Just do it! If you haven’t taken your kids to the theatre yet, you are both missing out! Family Tickets have tickets for all age groups, check out their listings.
I really hope this blog encourages you to try theatre out or to try it again. Some trips may be a success, others may seem like a disaster to you. But for your kid, they will take in the stories being told no matter what and they will fully appreciate your uninterrupted time with them watching a story together (screen free!). And there are still so many more stories to be told, so curtains up and see you there!
You can find me and my Bingsters on Instagram here.